How to Build Your Bones While You Sleep
Have you heard of melatonin? This naturally-occurring hormone has been in the news over the past few decades for its ability to help with jet lag and regulate sleep patterns. More recently, scientists are exploring melatonin’s positive impact on bone health and osteoporosis, yielding exciting results.
An adequate supply of melatonin can not only help you get that restful beauty sleep. It can also help you build your bones, with minimal effort. So today, you’ll discover a few simple steps you can follow to get a good night’s sleep so you can naturally maintain good melatonin levels that can maximize your bone-building success.
But first, I’d like to tell you a little more about this amazing hormone, in particular as it relates to bone remodeling. In the Save Our Bones Program, I explain how your bones continually remodel themselves. This vital mechanism that involves bone loss and subsequent new bone formation is the key to healthy bones and to the prevention of fractures. For a lighthearted look at the process, read my blog post about Oscar the Osteoclast, if you haven’t done so yet.
How Does Melatonin Help Your Bones?
Researchers noted that natural melatonin production begins to decline at around age 50, around the same time that osteoporosis is most often diagnosed. This observation led them to investigate whether reduced melatonin levels played a part in the development of osteoporosis.
Here’s a brief summary connecting the dots. In one of the earlier studies, newborn rats were exposed to fluorescent white light. The exposure to light showed lower melatonin synthesis, which was reversed by melatonin administration.1 In another study, the same researchers inhibited melatonin production in rats and found that serum concentrations of calcium also diminished.2
More specifically relating to bone health, Z. Ostrowska et al. found a fascinating link: that exposure to varying lighting conditions has a direct effect on bone physiology. They looked at the biochemical markers of bone metabolism and determined that the levels of these markers increased on short days or days with less light.3
In terms of fracture risk, a study by Feskanich et al. looked at more than 38,000 postmenopausal women and found that those who had worked night shifts for long periods of time, disturbing optimal melatonin secretion patterns, were at increased risk of wrist and hip fractures.4
Indeed, maintaining adequate melatonin levels is increasingly becoming a necessary component in both bone formation and in the prevention of excessive bone resorption.
How to Make Your Own Melatonin
There have not yet been any clinical trials looking into supplemental melatonin as a therapeutic tool in osteoporosis treatment, and I don’t recommend supplementation. After all, it is a hormone, so taking melatonin – and especially long-term supplementation – could artificially offset the delicate balance that your system needs.
But there are simple steps you can take to naturally increase your body’s ability to synthesize this important hormone:
- Sleep in a dark room, because light disrupts melatonin production. If there are light sources you can’t control, you might consider wearing a sleep mask.
- Make sure you get at least seven full hours of sleep.
- “Power down” before bedtime. Try to turn off the computer and the television at least an hour before you turn in.
- Get regular exercise. One study found that an hour on a stationary bicycle could increase melatonin levels up to three times.5 This is just an example; it doesn’t mean you need to use an exercise bicycle – it just points up the value of exercise in melatonin production.5
- Meditate or do some form of deep relaxation before you go to bed. A study found that a period of meditation greatly increased night-time plasma melatonin levels.6
- Get some sun during the day. Sunlight inhibits melatonin production, so getting sun exposure during daylight hours gives your pineal gland (which produces the melatonin) a rest so it can spring into action at night.
- Try to eat foods that contain melatonin. Mustard seeds, alfalfa and sunflower seeds, fennel seeds, and lemon verbena all contain a good amount of melatonin. Oats, tomatoes, corn, and barley, also contain melatonin, but not as much.
So enjoy a restful night and peace of mind, knowing that you’re building your bones as you drift off into a bone-healthy sleep.
1 D. O. Hakanson and W. H. Bergstrom, “Phototherapy-induced hypocalcemia in newborn rats: prevention by melatonin,” Science, vol. 214, no. 4522, pp. 807–809, 1981.
2 D. O. Hakanson, R. Penny, and W. H. Bergstrom, “Calcemic responses to photic and pharmacologic manipulation of serum melatonin,” Pediatric Research, vol. 22, no. 4, pp. 414–416, 1987.
3 Z. Ostrowska, B. Kos-Kudla, B. Marek, and D. Kajdaniuk, “Influence of lighting conditions on daily rhythm of bone metabolism in rats and possible involvement of melatonin and other hormones in this process,” Endocrine Regulations, vol. 37, no. 3, pp. 163–174, 2003.
4 D. Feskanich, S. E. Hankinson, and E. S. Schernhammer, “Nightshift work and fracture risk. The Nurses’ Health Study,” Osteoporosis International, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 537–542, 2009.